Hort industry prepares for labour shortfall

Horticulture responds to COVID-19

Horticulture
Having the right labour, in the right place, at the right time will be one of the greatest challenges the horticulture industry faces during the coronavirus pandemic.

Having the right labour, in the right place, at the right time will be one of the greatest challenges the horticulture industry faces during the coronavirus pandemic.

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Queensland's horticulture industry is quickly working to establish what issues they will face in the next six months.

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As the country faces further lockdowns to slow the spread of coronavirus, Queensland's horticulture industry is quickly working to establish what issues they will face in the next six months.

Addressing the labour shortfall that is expected to cause major disruptions as growers gear up to start harvesting in autumn is not the only concern.

Industry representative body Growcom says their members have also identified issues of accommodation supply, chemical, fertiliser and packaging supply, labour mobility and logistics, and workplace protocols where staff are confirmed as infected.

"If we want consumers to continue enjoying plenty of fresh and nutritious produce over the next six months, it is essential we ensure Queensland horticulture has everything in place for success in this mission," Growcom CEO David Thomson said.

"Having the right labour, in the right place, at the right time is one challenge we are currently facing.

"The measures governments put in place must be scaled and responsive to labour demands down to a regional level."

Growcom is now surveying growers, in an effort to understand the exact labour needs, farm-by-farm, on a month-by-month basis out to September 2020.

"To plan and put the appropriate measures in place, it is vitally important we better understand as an industry our future labour demand," Mr Thomson said.

"We're also working hard to give growers practical advice on how to best prepare and then respond to any future positive coronavirus cases in our industry.

"Ensuring we continue to reach our overseas customers is also very important, so Growcom is assisting exporters to find new routes to replace lost capacity in passenger jets."

Understanding the risks of COVID-19 and how best to protect the safety of workers has been a key concern for employers, as farms implement measures including increased hygiene practices, regular temperature testing of workers, and locking down farms altogether.

Fair Farms program manager Thomas Hertel said a webinar held on Wednesday looked at workplace issues in the context of COVID-19, and how to protect workers and ensure supply chains remain open.

"Growers are encouraged to put a robust plan in place during the coronavirus outbreak," Mr Hertel said.

"This plan should not only cover ways to prevent their workforce from being exposed to the virus, but also how they will respond and recover if their workforce is indeed infected.

"It is important to highlight that growers may be liable for WorkCover claims if an employee contracts coronavirus in the workplace and no, or clearly inadequate, control mechanisms were in place.

"Growers should perform a comprehensive risk assessment to identify control measures that are appropriate in their circumstances, including adequate social distancing and hygiene controls."

Despite the challenges facing all agriculture industries in light of COVID-19, Mr Thomson said Queensland's horticulture growers are committed to feeding a growing population with high-quality, clean, green and delicious fresh produce year-round.

"Through winter, we produce many of the vegetables eaten around Australia.

"Queensland is blessed to have a variety of growing regions and climates, so every day of the year there's something being harvested here in the Sunshine State."

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